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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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‘Stressed’ Southwest travelers scramble to fly home from Spokane amid widespread cancellations

Dec. 28, 2022 Updated Wed., Dec. 28, 2022 at 9:10 p.m.

The Southwest Airlines ticketing counter at Spokane International Airport is almost devoid of customers at midday Wednesday. The airline’s nationwide system melted down over the holiday weekend and canceled thousands of flights.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
The Southwest Airlines ticketing counter at Spokane International Airport is almost devoid of customers at midday Wednesday. The airline’s nationwide system melted down over the holiday weekend and canceled thousands of flights. (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Frustrated Southwest Airlines customers looking to return home from their holiday vacations scrambled to book flights Wednesday at the Spokane International Airport after the airline canceled thousands of flights across the country this week.

More than 2,900 flights were canceled Wednesday in the U.S., including more than 2,500 Southwest flights, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware. At Spokane International Airport, six of the eight Southwest arriving flights were canceled Wednesday and five of seven departing flights were listed as canceled, according to the airport.

A winter storm and staffing shortages appear to be behind at least some of the cancellations. The company has also pointed to outdated scheduling software. The U.S. Department of Transportation said it’s investigating whether the cancellations were avoidable and other factors.

The cancellations forced travelers to stay in the Spokane area for extra days, creating worry they would not return in time for work. Some considered driving to other airports for better luck or driving hundreds of miles to their destination.

Reg Overholser said he was supposed to fly back to Phoenix on Monday after visiting for the holidays, but Southwest canceled his flight.

After two days of browsing the computer for flights and waiting hours to talk on the phone with a Southwest employee, he was able to grab the final seat on an American Airlines flight set to leave Wednesday afternoon.

He said Southwest told him Monday the earliest flight he could board would be Saturday, but that would not work for him. Southwest refunded his original ticket, he said.

Overholser said he considered renting a car and driving to Phoenix – about 1,400 miles – or taking a train – which he said would take 50 hours.

“Everybody’s scrambling to try and find a way – planes, trains, automobile,” Overholser said.

He said last-minute tickets are expensive, but he got one for a reasonable price. Overholser said Southwest did not help him find a ticket with another airline.

“They’re not going to book you on another airline,” he said. “You got to go figure it out on your own.”

Mike Gibson said he and his fiancée, Jessica Hollingsworth, were expected to fly Wednesday to Sacramento, California, but their second and final leg from Sacramento to Burbank, California, was canceled.

Gibson said they planned to stay in Sacramento on Wednesday night (Southwest would reimburse them for the hotel) before attempting to get on a standby flight Thursday morning to their Southern California destination. The couple, who were visiting family in the Spokane area, may drive from Sacramento to the Los Angeles area.

If all goes well, the couple will get home a half day later than planned.

Gibson said they considered driving to another airport, like Boise or Portland, if they were unable to fly out of Spokane. He said they needed to get back home for work and could not afford to wait until Sunday when flights were available.

He said he can understand a one- or two-day delay, “but four or five days until the next flight, that’s ridiculous.”

The couple said they were “frustrated” and “stressed” about the cancellation and getting back to their jobs in time.

Four siblings were on standby Wednesday to Denver after Southwest canceled a couple of their flights Tuesday. Denver is the final stop for Ren Deane, one of the siblings, while David Strizich and Betty Liljander required another leg to Phoenix while the fourth sibling, Travis Deane, needed to go to Southern California.

The siblings said Wednesday they might have to stay in Spokane or Denver overnight.

Like the engaged couple, the four siblings said they were frustrated and stressed about the cancellation and trying to rebook flights. Strizich said they also could not wait until the weekend to fly out because they needed to return to work.

Strizich said their stepmother was on hold for about 1½ hours before speaking on the phone with a Southwest employee.

“Something like this shouldn’t be able to happen, in my opinion,” he said of the cancellation.

Mike Gavin also fell victim to Southwest’s cancellations Wednesday, but he hoped to fly back to Palm Springs, California, on Thursday. After learning of the cancellation, Gavin said he booked a Saturday flight on Alaska Airlines but was on his way to try to cancel that Wednesday because Southwest said it could fly him back to California Thursday.

He called the situation a “hassle,” but said he was lucky to stay with relatives in the area.

Others, like Krista Richardson, were fortunate to avoid cancellations.

Richardson, who was visiting family in Coeur d’Alene for Christmas, was able to keep her Southwest flight to Denver.

“We just lucked out,” said Richardson, who was traveling Wednesday with her two young children.

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